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After military service, ASU undergrad reaches out through music

Patrick Harris conducting a music class
November 05, 2014

Patrick Harris is a self-described army brat who grew up in Virginia and went to school in Texas. His family’s military background was one of the primary reasons he joined the Air Force, where he served on active duty for exactly four years, six months and 10 days, he recalls.

But the G.I. Bill, which helps cover tuition costs for servicemen, was also a strong motivator for the 25-year-old undergraduate who currently studies music education in Arizona State University's School of Music, in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

Harris plays the trumpet and has fostered a genuine passion for music over the years, even throughout his time in the military. During basic training he kept up his music skills, and while he was on duty he played in the community band, he says.

But his musical aspirations are not primarily performance-based. Harris hopes to give back by sharing his enthusiasm for music with others.

Harris chose ASU specifically for the music education program in the School of Music, but he cites the Pat Tillman Veterans Center as a major draw of the ASU experience as well. He says if he hadn’t decided to become a band director, he likely would have stayed on active duty. Now, he is able to serve in the Arizona National Guard while simultaneously pursuing his musical aspirations.

As a volunteer assistant band director at Marcos de Niza High School in Tempe, Harris has been able to do just that. He talks about the importance of being stern with students but also caring enough to reach out to them on a meaningful level.

“A lot of musicians can be pretty big-headed,” he says, citing a band director he had when he was younger who wasn’t very humble. “To be a good teacher, you really have to be able to relate to your students.”

Admittedly, college life has been a difficult adjustment for Harris. As a part-time ASU student, he regularly commutes to Chandler-Gilbert Community College for additional classes, which has made it more difficult to establish relationships.

Still, his enthusiasm for teaching music is contagious. He says he dreams of becoming a high school band director, but he would settle for a position at a middle school. When asked what he envisions for his future, Harris doesn’t hesitate: “Honestly, I just want to be the best teacher I can be,” he says.